School boards in Canada are a mixed bag, but party politics tends to make them worse. There's some reason to believe that, the bigger they are, the more troublesome they become.
In Vancouver, the nine trustees – before they were removed this week by B.C. Education Minister Mike Bernier – consisted of four from Vision Vancouver, one from the Green Party, and four from the conservative Non-Partisan Association. It was a recipe for infighting.
Mr. Bernier insisted the board meet a final budget deadline. It was well past the 11th hour. The budget was due back in June. The board delivered too late.
There were at least two major issues of substance. There are spaces in Vancouver for 59,585 students; only 50,387 are being used. The other big problem is how to pay for the strengthening of school buildings, to protect against earthquakes.
But there is another, less obvious problem. In the midst of the conflict between the provincial government and the trustees, it turned out that all six of the school board's senior managers would soon be on leave. Two had booked time off. The other four, remarkably, were all going on stress leave, apparently under the strain of dealing with trustees. There are allegations of bullying in the board's administrative offices.
A few years ago, the Toronto District School Board suffered from a comparably toxic atmosphere, with the roles reversed. There were allegations that the director of education – the senior manager – engaged in "destructive attacks," picking off employees "one by one" in "a culture of fear." A report commissioned by Ontario's minister of education to some extent bore this out.
These experiences may suggest that large school systems should be supervised by the provincial education bureaucracy, not simply as a temporary measure, but as a permanent subdepartment.
Parents and other citizens should have their voices heard, but perhaps having them serving as another layer of part-time politicians is not the best way to do it.